John Coccimiglio, Manager of Applied Research and Innovation (left) at Sault College, makes adjustments to a robotic cell with the help of Process Automation Student Matthew Lacasse and Professor Ron Chartrand (right).
Recognizing that technology is the wave of the future, Sault College jumped at the chance in 2013 to establish a robotics lab that would become a key component of its Process Automation Program, expanding the College's applied research capacity. Built in partnership with Tenaris Algoma Tubes, the lab was designed to afford students and faculty the opportunity to work with local industry to address their technical challenges, helping them become more competitive in the global economy.
A FedNor investment of $490,000 in 2015 helped set the stage for a fully integrated robotics lab, complete with industrial robots, associated software and equipment, and flex trainers. Sault College Manager of Applied Research and Innovation John Coccimiglio likened the state-of-the-art facility to an automation showroom, one that is attracting a lot of attention.
"It fits in beautifully. Without it, we wouldn't be relevant. Industry partners, as well as area high school, elementary and even daycare children, here at the college, are keenly interested in the lab," stated Coccimiglio.
More importantly, the robotics lab is providing students enrolled in the College's Process Automation Program with real-life, hands-on experience developing automation solutions for industrial processes.
Take Pollard Banknote for example, a global supplier of instant gaming tickets whose commitment to continuous improvement is fundamental to the company's corporate culture. Supplying more than 60 lottery and charitable gaming organizations worldwide, it's critical for Pollard Banknote to meet the varied specifications of its many customers. Although the Sault Ste. Marie finishing plant processes gaming tickets on two automated assembly lines, they are boxed and palletized by hand, due in large part to the differences in the types of tickets it finishes. But with Sault College's help, Pollard Banknote hopes to change all that.
"Essentially we're looking at how to take several different packaging lines and feed them into a single robotics cell that will palletize the tickets. We won't be eliminating jobs; we will simply be maximizing our existing resources to add value further up the chain," explained Steven Culligan, Director, Satellite Finishing, Pollard Banknote.
With proof of concept from Sault College in hand, Culligan says his company is now putting together a solution with an integrator to make it happen, working towards implementation in late 2018. By eliminating manual boxing and palletization, Pollard Banknote will increase its productivity and efficiency, and also realize some health and safety benefits for its employees.
"This has the potential to be a home run for our organization. If everything goes as planned, we'll roll it out in multiple jurisdictions," revealed Culligan.
What makes the lab a real asset, according to Coccimiglio, is that it offers offline facilities for industry partners to brainstorm ideas and identify solutions to their operational issues, develop a proof of concept, build it, test it and validate that it works, all without interfering with their day-to-day business or impacting their bottom line. Furthermore, Sault College's automation graduates will be qualified to maintain and repair the equipment to meet the needs of industry.
"A lot of people fear automation will eliminate jobs. My answer to that is simple. The best security is to be the best of the best at what you do as a company. If you are the lowest cost and most advanced producer, you can have job security because productivity is the key to success. With increased productivity, you can expand your company, take on new markets and grow your business, which not only protects jobs but creates new employment opportunities."